After watching James Wan’s incredibly creepy The Conjuring earlier this summer, I found myself wondering: “How long can he continue to mine scares out of this style of filmmaking?” I would never have guessed that I would get the answer two months later.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is a sequel to the 2011 surprise hit that scared the bejeebus out of audiences on its way to becoming one the highest grossing films–based on a budget-to-gross ratio–of all time. The first film found Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne playing concerned parents trying to protect their children–namely their comatose son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins)–from supposed evil spirits in their home.
Through the course of the first film, audiences learn the secret of Patrick Wilson’s Josh Lambert, and with the help of an old psychic friend Elise (Lin Shaye), and two bumbling idiots (scriptwriter Leigh Whannel and Angus Sampson), Josh is able to save his son by going into the otherworld of the dead.
Chapter 2 opens almost immediately after the events of the first film–after a quick interlude back to 1986 to set up a plot point–Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is being questioned about what happened to the family by the police.
With zero downtime, spooky things start happening again, and most of the returning cast shows up, including Barbara Hershey as Josh’s mother, and Wilson’s Josh starts to act strange and the film tries to recapture some of that spooky magic from 2011.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t even come close. Insidious: Chapter 2 is not even a pale shadow of the first film. It unintentionally borders on spoof with a plot involving a serial killer with sexual orientation issues, and a crazy mother (as if Hitchcock hadn’t already covered all of this), and the sheer ludicrousness of everything that happens is almost mind-boggling. The scares come very few and very far between with most using the now-tired mechanism of “look at the person standing in the back of the room” or the loud noise breaking the perfect silence school of filmmaking, and the audience I sat in was bored very quickly.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is silly in new and exciting ways. Not to get into too many details here, but one scene involves a group of people going to an abandoned hospital to search for clues, and the structure–located somewhere in California, where property is at a premium–not only still stands, but still has tons of old, dirty, cobwebbed equipment–including more than one standing scale in any given hallway–and the records room is miraculously 100% intact. Officials would never just leave that stuff behind.
This entire scene could easily be played for comedy if any of the characters had stopped and asked the obvious questions–questions the audience itself was asking. Instead, the actors take turns playing scared, the audience is bored out of their skulls, and the movie churns on at its silly pace.
Insidious: Chapter 2 does have a few bright spots. Late in the second act, the film ties directly into some iconic scenes from the first film in some incredibly intuitive ways–something you seldom see in a scare film like this. In fact, the common consensus on the first film was that is was good and scary and then got real silly at the end. Well, Chapter 2 is the almost the exact opposite. It’s silly for the better part of two acts, and then it starts to really shine, then the silliness returns in time for the climax.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is opening on Friday the 13th, and that distinction alone will make the film a likely box office hit. Unfortunately, director Wan, writer Whannel and the folks at Blumhouse Productions resorted to the gimmick of the calendar instead of trying to make a film worthy of the date.
As previously unwanted sequels to The Ring, The Grudge and The Blair Witch Project showed in the last couple of decades, sometimes, it’s okay to leave well enough alone. And not every successful property has to be a franchise. Insidious: Chapter 2 is creatively bad enough to kill the franchise, and maybe that was the intention of the creators. It’s funny when it’s not supposed to be, the writing is subpar–even for this genre, and the worse offense: it’s not scary.
As much as I enjoyed The Conjuring, I now fear it too will be ruined by an inferior sequel. But I’m pretty sure it will open on Halloween, or Friday the 13th, or maybe even Christmas Day, and it will make some bank and another terrible sequel will be fast-tracked and the cycle will repeat all over. This the way Hollywood works, and that’s what’s really scary.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is rated PG-13 and arrives in theaters on Friday, September 13.